Seder Sweets

Try these tempting desserts for Passover or any special occasion.
Lise Stern

There is a saying in the Talmud, "Room can always be found in one's stomach for sweet things," and Passover is no exception.

As with most major holidays, food is at the heart of the eight-day Passover celebration. In fact, the seder meal, celebrated during the first two days of Passover, is designed specifically to commemorate the ancient Israelites' flight from slavery in Egypt. Seder means "order" in Hebrew, and various dishes represent Passover events. Although dessert isn't a symbolic course in the seder, this special meal wouldn't be complete without it.

But seder cooks face challenges when it comes to dessert. In particular, they can't use chametz. Chametz, Hebrew for leavening, refers to grains that can ferment and leaven when mixed with water. According to Jewish law, five grains are forbidden during Passover: wheat, rye, barley, spelt, and oats. Most American Jews also avoid corn and rice during Passover. This means desserts must be made without flour.

Observant Jews follow certain dietary laws throughout Passover week. This includes avoiding chametz and eating matzo, the flat bread their forebears ate as they fled Egypt. In addition, Jews who keep kosher year-round do not eat meat and dairy at the same meal. That means no ice cream for dessert after a meal of roast chicken, for example. Since seder meals are predominantly meat-oriented, desserts need to be dairy-free―no milk or butter (though cooks can substitute kosher-for-Passover margarine).

Culinary challenges like these encourage cooks to make creative use of other ingredients in the Passover pantry. Some recipes call for matzo meal, ground matzo that comes in two forms. (Although matzo is made with wheat flour, it's fine for Passover because it is prepared so quickly that it doesn't have time to ferment and rise.) Regular matzo meal is coarse; it adds appealing texture and stands in for flour in recipes like our crunchy Mandelbrot. Matzo cake meal is finely ground and powdery.

Cooks also rely on eggs, fruit, and nuts to create Passover desserts. Whipped egg whites are used to prepare crunchy meringues and add height to rich cakes such as Chocolate-Orange Cake or Caramelized Pecan-Praline Roulade. Pureed fruit (dates are a traditional favorite) lends exotic sweetness. Nuts can be heavy in calories but contain beneficial fats and add wonderful texture and taste to all manner of desserts. And cooks can use baking soda; although it is a leavening agent, it contains no prohibited grains and is acceptable for Passover.

These five desserts were created to navigate the dietary restrictions of Passover, and we think these treats would be a welcome finale to any meal.

Gluten-free desserts
For religious reasons, these recipes use ingredients like egg whites and ground nuts in lieu of flour. Some of these recipes are appropriate for people with celiac disease (CD), who can't tolerate the gluten in wheat flour. Chocolate-Orange Cake, Individual Pavlovas with Honeyed Strawberries, and Fresh Mint Kisses contain no gluten.

These six desserts were created to navigate the dietary restrictions of Passover, and we think these treats would be a welcome finale to any meal.

1. Mandelbrot
2. Chocolate-Orange Cake
3. Fresh Mint Kisses
4. Chocolate Pavlovas with Honeyed Strawberries
5. Caramelized Pecan-Praline Roulade

Lisë Stern is a freelance writer, recipe developer, and the author of How to Keep Kosher: A Comprehensive Guide to Understanding Jewish Dietary Laws.